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DALLAS – CUNA Mutual Group’s LoanLink Center recently marked its third anniversary, and with that under its belt, the credit union-owned lending call center is already planning for its fourth year of service that will include several product and service announcements the company anticipates making in early 2006. Formed in 2002 by a partnership between CMG and APPRO Systems Inc. “to help credit unions grow their lending operations by providing services that expand and integrate channels,” the company boasted four months after opening its doors for business that more than 250 CUs were increasingly relying on call centers to help handle their own traffic and grow their lending operations. Thirty credit union leagues currently own shares in the credit union-owned call center. Since then, The LoanLink Center has hit some important milestones for itself. For one thing, what began as just a lending call center has branched into offering an extensive array of member services operations to CUs including general account balance inquiries, fund transfers, stop payment requests, ATM card inquiries, payoff information and credit union information such as hours of business and locations. In May 2004, for example, after learning that its application-to-call ratio was declining to 20% of calls converting to loan applications – 80% of the calls coming in were not lending related – The LoanLink Center decided to look into providing a member service option that would allow the call center to handle non-loan types of calls instead of merely giving the member calling in their credit union’s 800-number. “We started tracking the types of calls that rolled over to The LoanLink Center from credit unions and found members were asking for more and more transaction services, like questions on account balances, stop payments, fund transfers and ATM card inquiries,” said The LoanLink Center VP Mike Armstrong. “When we would give the member their credit union’s 800-number to call for those types of questions, thee calls were being rolled back to us anyway, so it was a vicious cycle.” That decision resulted in The LoanLink Center offering two connections for calls – through direct computer access to the CU’s host system, or through the Shared Branching Network in Atlanta. Since the service launched in mid-2004, 30 credit unions have signed on. Armstrong said The LoanLink Center is in “active discussion” with 40 more CUs on the service. Mid-Hudson Valley FCU, Kingston, N.Y. is “close to signing,” and Marine FCU, Jacksonville, N.C. is going live in February. “As credit unions continue to grow, outsourcing will grow as well. Credit union CEOs are looking for ways to handle the growth without having to create large call centers,” said Armstrong. The 24/7 call center has 75 employees who handle incoming calls both on the member service and lending side. Those credit unions that do full outsourcing with The LoanLink Center have a dedicated pod of employees who handle their respective members’ questions. Armstrong said the call center provides 22 dedicated people to one credit union alone. With 2005 almost over, The LoanLink Center has several product announcements on the member service side coming down the pike for 2006. First its lock box payment service, which has been in beta testing, will be announced by Jan. 1. In addition, The LoanLink Center will be able to transfer calls directly back to a member’s credit union when the member needs to talk with a CU rep for services such as changing a beneficiary on an IRA account. Also in early 2006 look for The LoanLink Center to announce a secure e-mail plan that will allow the call center to pick up e-mails from members to their credit union, in a secure environment, with the types of questions they would otherwise call in with. “While credit unions have been using call centers for lending for some time, the idea of complete member services operations is very new. The LoanLink Center allows credit union executives to spend more time creating financial opportunities to bring new members and business in the door than on operational duties,” said Armstrong. -

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